Book on Joss, Joss on the human condition

by Evs

I just started reading the Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion and so I thought I would write another Whedon-centric post as a follow-up to my Avengers review.

Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion is a collection of essays, articles and interviews about Joss Whedon’s various television projects, as well as the comics and films he has been involved in over the years. This is not the first book written about Joss Whedon’s work, nor the first that I have read. However, unlike most of the previous literature published on Whedon’s work – books like BtVS and Philosophy and Fighting the Forces  – which centered almost exclusively on the Buffy-Angelverse, this book covers a much wider spectrum of Whedon’s creative output.

This collection comes 9 years after the final episode of Buffy (1997-2003). In the time since this show ended, Whedon has been immensely productive and the resulting work is as rich and varied as anything in Buffy. With all of this additional material, themes can now be examined across ‘verses and across mediums. The insights then have become much closer to the man himself, and we are starting to see a consistent and full philosophy revealing itself.

A friend who had just recently been introduced to the style of a Joss Whedon story with The Avengers expressed quite accurately that a large part of Whedon’s success as a writer and as a director comes from his ability to effectively infuse entertainment with intelligence. Whedon also appears to use the popular mediums of tv, film and comics to explore his own curiosity about the human condition. The resulting content is fantastic food for thought.

There is a distinct philosophy in so much of what he creates. He is a self-described absurdist and atheist, but remains very curious about the concept of faith. He is a humanist and a consistent champion for the underdog. All of this is apparent in his work.

Here are 2 short clips with Whedon discussing his personal philosophy and view on humanism: (Its best if you start the video at 3:47 – unfortunately the youtube share function is not letting me start the video automatically at that point)

And on religion:

The element to his philosophy that most resonates with me is his emphasis on self-determination and personal responsibility. He consistently articulates the idea that the individual as very much responsible for his/her impact on the world, and often his/her own fate. This theme is in sharp contrast to the fictional and fantastical environments within which many of his stories exist. However, I think this contrast actually helps to isolate and highlight the role of the self. Because even in worlds with “The Powers That Be”, “The All Seeing Alliance” or “The First Evil”, where the rules of time and space are entirely corruptible, the actions of the individual still has the largest impact on the way things go down. In his universes, there is no god up there waiting to wipe away the mistakes or the traumas that the individual faces. It is up to the individual to make good in their lifetime.

This theme is also explored in his commentary for the Firefly episode Object in Space (episode 14). Unfortunately there is no legal link to this, so you would need to rent or buy the DVD to really see this. In this episode, Whedon uses the physicality of characters River and Jubal Early (the Bounty hunter) to explore their tactile and spiritual connection with physical objects (in this case a spaceship). In the commentary, Whedon explains how this idea stemmed from an existential experience in  his youth and his subsequent study of Jean-Paul Sartre‘s existential novel Nausea. If you are curious about Whedon’s work and process, I truly recommend that you check this out.

But in the meantime, here is one of his most famous talks at the Equality Now 10 year anniversary gala:

I doubt Joss Whedon’s giant brain is the main reason why Marvel has asked him back to direct another Avengers movie as well as developing live action Marvel TV series – The Avengers 1.46 billion worldwide boxoffice sales may have more to do with it.

But I for one simply can’t wait to see what else comes out of it in the next few years.